BitterSweet

An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


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Neither Fish Nor Fowl

Contrary to popular belief, ceviche needn’t include any seafood to be considered “authentic,” or more importantly, to be considered delicious. One of many dishes with murky origins, it’s largely credited to the Peruvians, but it made its mark on cultures across all continents. If one were to look at the Latin etymology, it would simply mean “food for men and animals;” an ambiguous free-for-all with very little meaning other than the fact that it was, indeed, edible. Turning to Arabic, we see the foundation for “cooking in vinegar.” Persian would agree, going further to suggest that it was a “vinegar soup.” Sure, fish or meat was almost always invited to the party, but that doesn’t mean it was essential to the soul of the dish.

Scores of creative ceviches abound, plant-based and seasoned with a wide palate of different cultural perspectives. The most successful ones that I’ve come across take texture into account even before the flavor is considered, as backwards as that may sound. Few people realize just how much of the eating experience comes down to texture, which is why ceviche is a particularly fascinating preparation to experiment with. As long as it has a somewhat meaty yet springy texture that approximates something like shrimp or calamari, accompanied by a brightly acidic twang, you can craft a highly satisfying vegan rendition, no questions asked. Thus, upon biting into a fresh, juicy lychee, inspiration for a new approach struck me like lightning.

As the rest of the country starts hunting through their closets for long-forgotten sweaters and scarves, predictably, the bay area is forced to start shedding layers. The heat continues to skyrocket and the only thing I want to eat is something quick, cold, and satisfying. Ceviche fits neatly into that definition, no matter what else you consider essential. Packing it with buttery avocados and young coconut meat adds richness to this otherwise very lean preparation, fit for either a light meal or a good snack. Packed with crisp vegetables, everything is open to interpretation based on your personal tastes and accessibility. Want to mix it up? Consider ripe tomatoes, cubed watermelon, fresh corn, marinated mushrooms, chunks of fried plantain, or even steamed sweet potatoes, just for starters. Borrow from as many different cultures as you like; for ceviche, as long as it’s cold and raw, pretty much anything goes.

The only inviolable rule is to use ONLY fresh lychees, and I must be adamant about that. Canned can never compare, possessing both an unnatural sweetness and unpleasantly sour, metallic aftertaste. If you can’t find fresh, just double up on the coconut, and choose your own vegetable adventure from there.

Island Breeze Lychee Ceviche

10 – 12 Fresh Lychees, Peeled, Pitted, and Quartered (About 2/3 Cup)
1 Fresh Young Thai Coconut, Meat Removed and Diced
1/2 Large Cucumber, Peeled and Seeded
1 Small Avocado, Diced
3 Tablespoons Lime Juice
1 Tablespoon Pineapple Juice
1 Tablespoon Rice Vinegar
1 tablespoon Vegan Fish Sauce or Soy Sauce
1 Red Jalapeno, Seeded and Finely Minced
2 Scallions, Thinly Sliced
1/4 Cup Packed Fresh Cilantro, Roughly Chopped
Salt, to Taste

To prepare ceviche, you shouldn’t really need written instructions to break it down, but here goes: Toss everything together in a large bowl except for the salt, cover, and let marinate in the refrigerator for 15 – 30 minutes. Season with salt to taste and serve thoroughly chilled, with crackers if desired.

Makes 4 – 6 Servings

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In [Lemon] Mint Condition

Years ago, back when a trip to Grandma and Grandpa’s house really was a trek through the woods, and quite a few miles, I would spend the long car ride anticipating all of the goodies to come. Nothing less than the perfect grandparents, they kept their home stocked with the foods that my young, underdeveloped palate adored, and often was denied in most circumstances. It was as if they went grocery shopping with just us kids in mind. Cabinets stacked high with dried pasta, we could have chosen a new shape each visit and still have never run out of new whimsical noodles to try. Candy dishes decorated every spare flat surface, and I recall on more than one occasion slipping away to “play piano” in order to get dibs on the mint chocolates stashed on the glossy wooden lid.

Best of all, though, was the spare fridge in the basement. That’s where the real treasure was hidden: the cookies.

Perhaps they had a penchant for buying in bulk, but it seemed as though there were never fewer than a half-dozen open packages to pick at. Eaten right away, with the refrigerator’s cool breath still clinging to them, chilling each morsel to the core, it was a unique experience that made even mundane, store-bought baked goods seem somehow special. My absolute favorites were the big, crisp cookies covered in so much powdered sugar that you couldn’t help but spray some of the white sweetness all over your clothes, and the surrounding furniture, as you ate. I never learned the name of those cookies and haven’t seen the exact ones since, but they sound a whole lot like the discontinued lemon coolers, a classic Girl Scouts offering.

With the annual Girl Scouts’ harassment in full-swing, these sweets immediately came to mind, and I couldn’t resist a little trip down memory lane. A bit more grown up than those original cookies, my version adds a bright splash of peppermint to the party, replicating that cooling sensation I enjoyed so much. For the full experience, you’ve simply got to store them in the fridge… Although considering how easy they are to eat, I can’t promise that will allow them to last any longer!

Lemon-Mint Cooler Cookies

1/2 Cup Non-Dairy Margarine
1/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
Zest of 1 Lemon
2 – 4 Drops Peppermint Oil, or 1/4 – 1/2 Teaspoons Peppermint Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
1 1/2 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/4 Teaspoon Baking Soda
2 Tablespoons Lemon Juice
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla

1/2 Cup Confectioner’s Sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with silpats or parchment paper. Set aside.

In the bowl of your stand mixer, thoroughly cream together the margarine and granulated sugar using the paddle attachment. Pause periodically to scrape down the side of the bowl as necessary. Once the mixture is homogeneous and fluffy, add in the lemon zest, peppermint, and salt, and mix to combine. Introduce the flour and baking soda next, starting the mixer on a slow speed until the flour is mostly incorporated, to prevent the dry goods from flying out and re-decorating the kitchen. Finally, add the lemon juice and vanilla. It may seem as though the mixture is too dry to come together, but be patient and keep mixing; it will eventually form cohesive dough. Resist the urge to add more liquid!

Scoop out walnut-sized balls and roll them between your palms to achieve smooth spheres. Place them at least 1-inch apart on your prepared baking sheets, and flatten them out slightly. Bake for 12 – 15 minutes, or until the bottom edges just begin to brown. Carefully pull the cookie-topped silpats or baking sheets off of the hot sheet pans, and let rest for 5 minutes before tossing them in the confectioner’s sugar. Let cool completely before enjoying. Better yet, store them in the fridge for an even more cooling treat!

Makes 2 Dozen Cookies

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